New study compares PTSD in veterans to active duty service members

VA/DoD results a 'major breakthrough' for treating post-traumatic stress

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a first-of-its-kind study on symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, where veterans and active-duty service members are compared, the results are being called a "major breakthrough" for better understanding the disorder, where the results can be used to improve the health needs of veterans and active duty, relative to their experiences in the service.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD, the PTSD rate among Vietnam Veterans was 30.9 percent for men and 26.9 percent for women. For Gulf War Veterans, the PTSD rate was 12.1 percent. Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans had a PTSD rate of 13.8 percent.

Researchers from VA and the Department of Defense teamed up to examine symptoms of PTSD in those who have served this country to those still serving. It's the product of a collaborative effort analyzing data from the DoD's Millennium Cohort Study -- a longitudinal study to evaluate the health of military personnel throughout their careers and after, launched in 2001 and led by the Naval Health Research Center.

This new joint study is called Prospective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptom Trajectories in Active Duty and Separated Military Personnel. DoD and VA researchers found similar PTSD symptom trajectories in active-duty personnel and veterans, suggesting consistency in how both groups experience PTSD over time.

Of the four trajectories found in both groups, the most common was the resilient trajectory with low PTSD symptom levels. Veterans, however, were less likely to be classified in the resilient category than those on active duty.

“Knowing there are similarities in how PTSD affects service members and veterans makes it easier to pinpoint which treatments are the best to control the condition,” said Dr. Edward Boyko, an epidemiologist and internist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Washington state, and VA’s lead researcher on the Millennium Cohort Study.

“The data that MCS researchers have been collecting since 2001 is incredibly valuable for both the DoD and VA,” said Dr. Dennis Faix, director of the Millennium Cohort Study and preventive medicine physician. “Going forward, working with VA will allow both agencies to make sure we are getting the best information to develop a comprehensive understanding of the continuum of health in current and former service members.”

There have been more than 200,000 participants in the Millennium Cohort Study. Here's a look at the percentages of those who have been involved: 

  • 61% deployed in support of the recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • 42% are veterans of military service
  • 44% are Reservists or National Guard members
  • 31% are women

The results of the new VA/DoD study will appear in the Journal of Psychiatric Research's June 2017 issue. You can see that here. You can learn more about the Millennium Cohort Study here